Lust and love can often find themselves strange bedfellows. However, the play between the two has long been of interest to storytellers and filmmakers. However, few directors have approached these lines with more disturbing or outlandish ideas than Park Chan-wook. The South Korean director behind Stoker, Oldboy, and The Handmaiden returns to the big screen with Decision to Leave, a far more subdued thriller. However, the restraint and repression fall away thanks to the explosive chemistry between Tang Wei and Park Hae-il. The resulting film allows Park Chan-wook to filter his vision through the lens of Hitchcock, Wong Kar-Wai, and Ivory. It is undeniably one of the very best of 2022.
Homicide Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) picks up a new case when a man tumbles down a mountain. Due to the climber’s stature in the community and his expertise as an athlete, foul play is suspected. Yet the primary suspect, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), has an airtight alibi. As Hae-jun clears Seo-rae, the two begin to grow extremely close, despite Hae-jun’s existing marriage. They begin to realize their growing attraction, and the results could upend the lives of many in the process.
Park Chan-wook wrote Decision to Leave with longtime collaborator Seo-Kyeong Jeong, and once again, the two create a romantic symphony. Not only do they craft sexual and romantic moments out of thin air, but they layer these through a Hitchcockian lens of repression. The lust between our leads is palpable through the screen. A simple look from Park Hae-il says it all. Yet capturing this chemistry in subtle and underwritten moments creates a novelesque tone for the film. At many moments, Decision to Leave feels more like a Code Era romance than a film written in 2022, but the sexless nature of the industry today makes the lust feel carnal.
Park Chan-wook remains one of the very best visual storytellers alive. His ability to frame shots is nearly unparalleled, and cinematographer Ji-Yong Kim arrives with a bang. The former B-Camera operator on Parasite and Okja has lead cinematography credits to his name, but this will be the film to put him on the map. Park Chan-wook and Kim never skimp on color when it would benefit the movie, and they use a very active camera to add unique dynamics to simple dialogue sequences. In addition, they use the camera to add to the chemistry between the performers. This strategy pays off throughout the film.
It would also be impossible to discuss this film without the stunning performances of Tang Wei and Park Hae-il. Tang Wei delivers a titanic turn, constantly forcing the audience to reexamine her motivations and wants in every scene. She builds off her co-stars and layers of emotional complexities that break through in surprising moments. It’s the kind of performance that makes a career. In the mind of this critic, she gives the best performance by an actress in 2022.
Park Hae-il delivers his own powerhouse performance. He is a man torn apart by morality, duty, and lust. He truly believes himself to be a man of honor but falls prey to his desires. As he struggles to understand his internal battle, the stress and stakes of the world around him build to a crescendo. The personal relationships that led to a happy life begin disintegrating, yet his attraction to Seo-rae only increases. Park Hae-il plays the role as if he were playing an addict, and given the darkly sick game between the two characters, this does not stray far from the truth.
Once again, Park Chan-wook has delivered a transformative film. The director has crafted something extraordinary, and the film demands a thousand rewatches. Of course, few directors can ever hope to create a unique police story, but Park Chan-wook has created the definitive femme-fatale neo-noir for 2022 audiences. As a result, Decision to Leave earns a place among the best films of the last decade.
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